High tech accounted for nearly half of the 4.2% growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 1998. It is responsible, in large part, for the incredibly low 1.7% unemployment rate for college-educated workers. So low, in fact, that the U.S. is running out of educated people who can work in designing, manufacturing, and selling computers, communication equipment, and other high-tech gear. Silicon Valley is banging on Congress' door to increase the number of six-year visas offered to high-skilled immigrants. Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) has proposed a bill that would hike the annual cap on such H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 for five years. Congress should get behind it. A shortage of skilled workers threatens to slow down the high-tech boom that is behind America's amazing economy.
Unions and protectionists oppose the bill. Strip away the anti-immigrant bias and they make some cogent arguments. Up to 40% of these visas go, not to high-tech workers, but to physical therapists and other occupations, many of them low-skilled. Foes also say that the visa program is simply a way to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor.
Most of the H-1B visa workers are actually graduate students coming out of U.S. universities. To stay and work full-time, they need an H-1B. They should get one. As for the corruption of the program, enforcement is the solution, not abolition. With full employment already attained for highly trained workers, employers can either bring in temporary employees to work in the U.S. or ship the work overseas.
Any simple check of the surnames of the leading figures in American high technology leads to only one conclusion: It benefits everyone for the world's best and the brightest to be able to work inside the U.S.